New England Patriots

New England Patriots

Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins of the Arizona Cardinals during a game at State Farm Stadium on Oct. 24, 2021 in Glendale, Arizona. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

For DeAndre Hopkins, it was as simple as whoever offered the best contract.

And anyone who’s followed Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots over the past two-plus decades saw coming, they were not going to be the team to come to Hopkins with the best offer. That’s despite having more room to spend to the cap; they had a $9.3 million edge in cap space in the hunt for Hopkins, according to OverTheCap.com.

Despite that, the Pats’ offer for Hopkins “wasn’t in the same ballpark” as the one from the Titans. As reported by Ian Rapoport, Hopkins’ contract with Tennessee is for two years and a base value of $26 million, with a chance to make up to $3M per year in incentives.

The details of New England’s offer for Hopkins haven’t been reported by anyone reliable. But it’s reasonable to assume that, based on new reports, the Titans’ incentives alone were a better offer than whatever the Patriots put on the table.

Here’s a rundown of all the factors in play…

DeAndre Hopkins’ Contract

DeAndre Hopkins of the Arizona Cardinals catches the ball for a touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium on Oct. 30, 2022 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)

DeAndre Hopkins of the Arizona Cardinals catches the ball for a touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium on Oct. 30, 2022 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)

Just the base value of Hopkins’ deal with the Titans likely eclipsed that of the Patriots. But on top of two years and $26 million, Hopkins has $3 million per year in incentives – and they’re actually reasonable. According to Ian Rapoport, Hopkins can earn the full $3 million if he gets to 95 catches, 1,050 yards, and 10 touchdowns ($1M for each milestone).

The incentives have four tiers, meaning Hopkins can still earn $750,000 if he reaches 65 catches, 750 yards, and four touchdowns. They’re structured in such a way that they can be classified as “Not Likely To Be Earned,” since Hopkins caught 64 passes for 717 yards and three TDs in 2022, and so they won’t count against the cap.

  • The Patriots’ Incentives

    ORCHARD PARK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 08: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots look on prior to a game against the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium on January 08, 2023 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)

    Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots look on prior to a game against the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium on Jan. 8, 2023. (Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)

    While it’s unclear what the Patriots actually offered Hopkins, based on their recent history, it was likely an incentive-laden deal, probably more total incentives than the Titans’ contract.

    A recent deal to point to is DeVante Parker’s recent restructure with the Patriots, which turned his contract into three years and up to $33 million. Sounds like good money. But according to Field Yates, $15.9 million of that $33M are in incentives.

  • Not Likely To Be Earned…

    DeVante Parker and Mac Jones of the New England Patriots celebrate after completing a touchdown against the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium on Jan. 8, 2023. (Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)

    DeVante Parker and Mac Jones of the New England Patriots celebrate after completing a touchdown against the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium on Jan. 8, 2023. (Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)

    Of Parker’s incentives, $1.2M of them are in an annual All-Pro nod. All due respect to Parker, he could have a career year and still not be an All-Pro. So he can’t count on getting that. The rest are tied in “statistical incentives,” which are probably unlikely to be reached in real life.

    Contrast that with Hopkins’ incentives, which technically were able to be classified as not likely to be earned, but are not out of the realm of possibility. Unless Treylon Burks emerges as All-Pro caliber in his second season, Hopkins could immediately become the Titans’ No. 1 wide receiver, putting a stat line of 95-1050-10 firmly in play for him.

  • The Teams’ Receiver Situations

    GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN - OCTOBER 02: Kendrick Bourne #84 of the New England Patriots and DeVante Parker #1 of the New England Patriots celebrate after Parker scored a touchdown during the third quarter against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on October 02, 2022 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

    Kendrick Bourne and DeVante Parker of the New England Patriots celebrate after Parker scored a touchdown against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on Oct. 2, 2022 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

    You may disagree with Belichick on this one, but the Patriots head coach ostensibly didn’t make a harder push for Hopkins because he feels relatively good about what he already has at wide receiver.

    There’s the aforementioned Parker, who just signed an extension, albeit the kind that opened cap space. Kendrick Bourne looked like a very good complementary receiver in Mac Jones’ rookie year before regressing under the Pats’ disastrous offensive coaching staff in 2022. JuJu Smith-Schuster is a bit of an enigma after missing much of OTAs and minicamp, but in terms of pure talent, he’s an upgrade over Jakobi Meyers. Second-year pro Tyquan Thornton¬†has flashed high-end ability in his limited time on the field.

    The Titans, meanwhile, needed a receiver much more than the Patriots did. There was a big drop-off on their depth chart after Burks, so Hopkins certainly fixes that problem. The Patriots’ problem at receiver isn’t necessarily talent, but other factors like injuries and overall commitment, which are fair to mention. But on paper, they were good before the hunt for Hopkins, and they’re still good today.

  • The Patriots’ Cap Situation

    MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA - SEPTEMBER 11: Head coach Bill Belichick and Mac Jones #10 look on during pregame at Hard Rock Stadium on September 11, 2022 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

    Head coach Bill Belichick and Mac Jones of the New England Patriots look on during pregame at Hard Rock Stadium on Sept. 11, 2022. (Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

    Yes, cap space can be maneuvered in a number of different ways, as Belichick famously said. But regardless of their cash spending, the Patriots are typically on the books spending to the cap, meaning their $17.7 million in space is bound to go somewhere.

    But that doesn’t mean the Patriots actually have that much money to work with. As detailed by Pats cap expert Miguel Benzan last week, the Pats are estimated to have up to $16.6 million in expenses during the season that they need to account for on the cap. That includes injury replacements, practice squad elevations, salaries below the top-51 players, and “Not Likely To Be Earned” roster bonuses that are earned.

  • Trust The Process?

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - DECEMBER 24: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots watches his team play during the second quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals at Gillette Stadium on December 24, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Winslow Townson/Getty Images)

    Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots watches his team play during a game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Gillette Stadium on Dec. 24, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Winslow Townson/Getty Images)

    So, realistically, Belichick wasn’t going to sign Hopkins unless he was able to fashion an extremely low cap number. That probably made it a huge challenge to top the Titans’ offer.

    It’s frustrating that the Patriots so consistently fall short financially, but Belichick’s process is what it is, and that’s why it’s not surprising at all that they couldn’t really compete with the Titans’ offer.

  • What This Means For The Patriots

    ORCHARD PARK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 08: Mac Jones #10 of the New England Patriots celebrates with DeVante Parker #1 of the New England Patriots after Parker's receiving touchdown during the second quarter against the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium on January 08, 2023 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)

    Mac Jones of the New England Patriots celebrates with DeVante Parker after connecting for a touchdown against the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium on Jan. 8, 2023 in Orchard Park, New York. (Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)

    There will now be a lot of public pressure on Parker to be something close to what Hopkins would’ve been, now that he’s locked in as the starting “X” outside receiver. Smith-Schuster will have pressure on him to match Meyers’ production from 2022 (4.8 catches and 57.4 yards per game), if not exceed it.

    On top of that, Thornton needs to make a year-2 jump and Bourne needs a serious rebound from a season in which he got in the coaches’ doghouse, seemingly multiple times. There will be pressure on all four receivers just to stay on the field in the first place.

  • It’s All On Mac

    Jun 12, 2023; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) speaks to the media at the Patriots minicamp at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

    New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports)

    Despite the questions that the Patriots may still have at wide receiver and tackle, the most pressure will be on Mac Jones to not just return to his form of his rookie year in 2021 but possibly play even better. He has a good, experienced offensive coordinator in Bill O’Brien, and technically the best group of pass-catchers he’s had in his career.

    The receivers, plus tight ends Hunter Henry and Mike Gesicki, and running back Rhamondre Stevenson,¬†would certainly be enough for a guy like Patrick Mahomes. Jones isn’t Mahomes, but if he’s going to be a good starting quarterback in the NFL, he should be able to make it work with the weapons he has.

  • Sports Hub Patriots Podcast // Minicamp Reactions

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    We’ll continue to keep you covered on the Patriots’ off-season here at 985TheSportsHub.com. We will have in-depth coverage of training camp once the open practices begin on Wednesday, July 26.

  • Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff and follow him on Instagram @realmattdolloff. Check out all of Matt’s content here.

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